© Ben Robertson 2006 -
2014 – Reviews
but will there be any recordings?
plus Southern African jazz in the 20 years since apartheid
Track of the Month:-
It is oft said that African music went through a 15 to 20-
What is remarkable about South African jazz since 1994 is that this stunning music was made in the toughest conditions imaginable. While life expectancy in the region has started to rise in recent years, largely due to the introduction of generic drugs to treat HIV, it remains frighteningly low, especially for black South Africans whose lives are far shorter than their white compatriots. The toll on jazz musicians speaks for itself. Of the musicians featured on the compilation, those no longer with us include:
All these human beings were national treasures. Hardly any died of old age and the
loss of younger musicians to murder, suicide, car accidents, etc, simply heartbreaking.
Musicians of the post apartheid era, especially younger ones, have faced socio-
And what is the situation like now? As good a starting point as any is “Felix,” a
beautifully observed and thought-
Another good starting point is Unathi’s reworking of her cover version of Miriam Makeba’s “Nongqongqo (To Those We Love)” originally from the 1966 album “An Evening With Belafonte/ Makeba.” Unathi transforms this beautiful composition to invoke the ancestral spirit of the late Nelson Mandela and pleads with the father of her nation to guide today’s South Africa about how to “turn things around.”.
Looking further afield, It is striking how many of the year’s best recordings are by women. Throughout this decade, this site’s albums of the year have been by established male stars nearing the ends of their careers or have been albums that celebrate the continent’s musical heritage, This year is no exception with the nod going to Koffi Olomide’s stunning tribute to Franco, the greatest of all Africa’s jazz icons but the future lies with artists like Thandi Ntuli, this sites 2014 Newcomer of the Year and the wonderful Carmen Souza, who’s “Live at Lagny Jazz Festival” is the site’s West African release of the year and to the likes of Claudia Bakisa, Angelique Kidjo, Siya Makuzeni, Tutu Puoane and Feya Tess all of whom have put out magnificent releases in the course of the year. The demographics of African jazz in 2014 mean that the future is almost undoubtedly going to be female.
Over all African Jazz in the year has seen a continued rise in the number of annual
releases – as has happened in every year of the decade so far. Within this encouraging
upward trend there are however some worrying developments. For example while Ethio
jazz and Afrobeat are in rude health and growing as global phenomena, there is a
dearth of new recordings from East and, to a lesser extent, West Africa. This isn’t
because there is no jazz in these regions. On the contrary, Kenya’s contemporary
jazz scene, for example, boasts the best jazz musicians that nation has ever produced
in the form of Joseph Hellon and Aaron Rimbui and the BBC World Service recently
reported that there is an unprecedented boom in live jazz in Ethiopia’s capital Addis
Ababa. The problem is that this music isn’t being recorded and released commercially
to the wider world. It’s difficult to ascertain exactly why this is so but it is
likely that industrial scale music piracy on the Internet deters artists from recording:
hey simply can’t make any money out of it. Central Africa seems relatively immune
to the problem so far, perhaps because the Internet isn’t yet as well developed in
that part of Africa yet but there are worrying signs that the system of copyright
is beginning to unravel in Southern Africa with sites like Electric Jive starting
to pose an existential threat to the reissue end of the music industry. Chillingly
one of that site’s leading lights stated this year that he regards remuneration of
musicians for recordings as “twentieth century.” Let’s hope he’s wrong and let all
of us silently resolve to pay for our music at every opportunity and shun every means
of not doing so. Such an approach is vital not only to the future of the music but
to lift musicians and their families out of the deeply troubling socio-
Track of the Month:-
The vast legacy of Congolese singer, composer, guitarist and bandleader extraordinaire
Luambo Makiadi Franco and his magnificent big band T.P.OK Jazz, lies at the v heart
of jazz from sub-
In the 25 years since Franco’s death, the dominance of Congolese music in sub-
Regardless of his undoubted talent, Olomide is not however a jazz musician and jazz lovers may raise their eyebrows at finding a review of his latest offering on this site. They may well also find aspects of his latest DVD disconcerting. Koffi is banked on either side by an array of gyrating scantily clad dancing queens. There are machines on stage belching out fire, smoke and bubbles. The rough hewn, utterly Congolese and gloriously full throated seven piece horn section is frequently edited out of the mix or drowned out by clumsily overdubbed synthesiser. Koffi boastfully calls himself “Qudra Kora Man” at frequent intervals, referring to the fact that he is a four time recipient of the continent’s most prestigious Kora music award. The sound engineering may frustrate too. Whilst reasonably clear for the most part, it drops out almost entirely at one point and there is occasional buzzing from the PA. The editing is abrupt at times and on the review copy vision and sound grind to a complete halt for several minutes towards the end of track seven necessitating judicious use of the skip to next track button. Jazz lovers may not be alone in finding the latter somewhat irritating.
Nonetheless it those who persevere with “Koffi Chante Luambo -
Wisely the approach Koffi and Munan adopt for “Chante Luambo” is not nostalgic or revivalist, nor does it need to be because Franco is regarded as a genius across vast swathes of the continent where his work is immortal regardless of anything Koffi or Munan may or may not do. Nor have Koffi and Munan made any attempt to surpass or supplant the original OK Jazz recordings which are widely held to be incomparable masterpieces. Rather, they have done the one sensible, worthwhile thing one can do with Franco's material. With the help of his gifted arranger Koffi has reworked the songs to make them more accessible it to his own audience. It is as though he is saying to his fans "if you think I'm good just listen to the greatest: Franco."
This approach is the equivalent of Michael Jackson doing a live album of Louis Armstrong cover versions in partnership with a great contemporary arranger who has an unimpeachable pedigree in jazz; not primarily in hope of winning over jazz fans but with the intention of turning Jackson aficionados on to Armstrong.
The good news is that it has worked. Koffi’s consummate artistry as a singer, his
showmanship and infectious enthusiasm combined with Munan’s masterly arrangements
make “Koffi Chante Luambo” a winner. Koffi has never looked more relaxed or confident,
nor has he sounded better or looked like he is enjoying himself more; as well he
might, because the material he is singing is simply the best there is. Munan’s arrangements
sound deceptively loose, almost casual but he has paid minute attention to reworking
the rhythm section and the interlocking of the three guitars to give the tunes a
contemporary feel. The fact that guitar solos -
The material listed on the DVD, is all composed by Franco, except for “Aliya” which is Koffi’s own from the “Monde Arabe” album. The half dozen or so tracks represent a minuscule proportion of Franco & OK Jazz’s mammoth back catalogue of around 1,500 songs an astonishing number of which are known and loved by a considerable portion of the population across an are more than double the size of the United States. Thankfully, both Koffi’s previous tributes to Congolese jazz giants (“Chante Tabu Ley” and “Chante Lutumba”) stretched to two volumes, so there is reason to hope that there will be more “Chante Luambo” to come. Given Franco’s Shakespeare like status, one could argue that nothing less than a reinterpretation of the complete works can do him justice, in which case we would have umpteen volumes to look forward to.
For the time being, however, readers are strongly urged d to feast themselves on the current offering, which is thus far only available as a DVD. If the previous “Ley” and “Ltumba” releases are anything to go by, there may well be CD and download versions on the market before long but even so, the DVD version will be the one to go for, because the footage has a real sense of occasion that provides a window to Central African music in situ; the dancing by audience and performers alike adds greatly to one’s understanding of the music and there are lovely glimpses of just how much Fraco means to people such as a dignitary of some sort, giving an emphatic thumbs up at the start of the final number. Plus, of course, Koffi himself in all his pomp has extraordinary stage presence and genuine magnetism. On this release especially, he is eminently watchable.
There are four songs from the 70’s of which two, “Azda” and “Liberté,” were originally
sung by Franco. “Alimatou” originally sung mainly by Sam Mangwana is served up complete
with a rare and surprisingly compelling appearance by Koffi on guitar -
Like him or not, Koffi has done Franco proud and this release will be relished by large numbers of older music lovers not merely in Kinshasa and Brazzaville but from Lagos to Lilongwe and Dar to Dakar; in all of which Franco’s long standing devotees will dance delightedly in ululating unison with Koffi’s fans together, in all probability, with younger members of their families too. If so, Koffi has done Africa’s cultural heritage very great service that may even merit yet another Kora award. Either way, “Koffi Chante Luambo” is likely to be remembered as a highlight of his glittering career and as a timely, telling reminder to us all of the timeless, towering talent that was Franco, the mother continent’s all time favourite musician.
Tracks of the Month:-
“Rawmaterializm” from the album “Brasskap Sessions Vol .2” by McCoy Mrubata (South Africa)
“419 Afrobeat.com” by Funsho Ogundipe feat Tony Allen, from the five track vinyl
LP compilation album “Asoju Oba Ayetoro -
“Africa Mokili Marimba” by African Jazz featured on the vinyl LP compilation double album “Souvenirs From The Congo,” by Grand Kalle & L'African Jazz (DR Congo)
This column’s three month absence is nothing compared to the six years we’ve awaited
McCoy Mrubata’s “Brasskap Sessions Vol .2.” Its been worth it: For starters, the
standard of musicianship on the album is absolutely first rate, featuring established
stars such as the Malawian Erik Paliani and his revered Zimbabwean peer Louis Mhlanga
on guitars; trumpeter Feya Faku; trombonist Jabu Magubane; double bassist Herbie
Tsoaeli ; drummer Ayanda Sikade; percussionist Tlale Makhene (from Swaziland); keyboardist
But why have had to wait so long for this? The reason, seemingly, from the title of “Rawmaterializm,” the track that sets the tone for the album, and from comments recounted to Gwen Ansell, in a recent interview is economic:
“It took me years to assemble enough resources to feature those big line-
(from an interview with McCoy Mrubata by Gwen Ansell at
If making an album is this tough for someone of McCoy Mrubata’s stature; no wonder new jazz recordings from South Africa have seemed relatively few and far between of late. This may also explain why so many of the releases that do see the day feel unadventurous: the market appears to have become more risk averse than it was and therefore more musically conservative.
Where did the radicalism go? McCoy refers to Fela Kuti as a continuing inspiration and a new documentary “Finding Fela” due for release on DVD shortly is a vivid reminder of why. A combination of live footage (of which there is relatively little in existence thanks to the brutality of the Nigerian authorities), archive interviews and reminiscence of people who knew him form the backbone of the film and the gaps in the story are cunningly circumvented by interweaving footage from and about the musical “Fela.” The result is a fast paced; warts and all but torching, humane portrayal hat has movie goers bursting into applause. Director, Alex Gibney, is to be congratulated on what will surely come to be regarded as the definitive documentary on the central figure in afrobeat. There’s even a magnificent sax solo by Fela’s elder son Femi showing that if he put his back into it he could be as great a player as Mrubata. Why Femi plays this well so rarely is a mystery.
One musician who certainly keep the flame of afrobeat alive is master drummer Tony
Allen, who has been going through a purple patch, which started with 2012’s Rocket
Juice & the Moon project; continued in 2013 with his Afrobeat Makers “Tony Allen
Rhythms Revisited” and happily continues in 2014, with several strong new recordings.
Most beautiful of all, to these ears, is “419 Afrobeat.com” an instrumental co-
Allen also plays at his heart out on the album “African Woman” by Guinean singer
Sia Tolno on which he is producer and co-
The big African cultural event of the last three months in London however, whence
this column emanates, was not a sensibly about music at all. The controversy has
been about a performance art installation at the Barbican, one of UK capital’s premier
Inevitably, these events prompt soul-
From the vantage point of London, Africa is not only physically distant. Culturally
the picture most people seem to have is so grotesquely distorted by layer upon layer
of crass marketing, romanticism, neo-
The reason this imagined truth telescope would surely alight on “Indépendance Cha
Cha” is that it is the source of what remains to this day the single biggest distortion
in people’s understanding of jazz from Africa. The history, influence, and contemporary
legacy of this song need to become part of the core curriculum for the study of
jazz everywhere. Wikipedia points out, correctly, that the song was the first homegrown
pan African hit record, and certainly there is no electric guitarist south of the
Sahara or north of the Lmpopo today whose playing isn’t influenced by Dr Nico. The
song’s political legacy and long-
The effectiveness of the measures South Africa took against Congolese jazz is astonishing.
For example, your columnist was privileged last year to spend a train journey with
Tony Allen’s great contemporary Bra Louis Moholo-
The hostility towards and fear of African jazz engendered in South Africa’s apartheid rulers still leaves a gaping wound not only n that nation’s jazz scene but in the world’s understanding of jazz from Africa. Still Congolese jazz barely figure in the jazz scene in South Africa let alone in the country’s university curricula. This ignorance is so pervasive that even Wikipedia continues to omit Congolese jazz from its definition of African jazz.
Moreover, the global jazz establishment, the “world music” executives, academia and
a great many musicians are still reluctant to do more than nibble at the edges of
In due course the power of the music itself will change all this. Encouragingly “Indépendance
Cha Cha” has reissued twice in the last twelve months following “Le Grand Kallé:
His Life, His Times,” a compilation, focusing on the leader of African Jazz, that
was this site’s 2013 Album of the Year. A vinyl only double album “Souvenirs From
The Congo,” by Grand Kalle & L'African Jazz is arguably an even better starting point
from which to begin an acquaintance with “Indépendance Cha Cha” and African Jazz
because it brings together a more representative selection of the tracks for which
the band is best known and arranges them thematically across the four well thought
out 12 inch sides. The downside is that the sleeve notes contradict the probably
more accurate hardback booklet that accompanies last year’s release, and this critic,
for one, finds the description of the group’s early work as “naive” offensive. It
is the equivalent of referring to Duke Ellington’s early works or Louis Armstrong’s
sides with King Oliver as “naive.” The alternative digital only download double album
“ “Africa Mokili Mobimba” which stands for “Africa all over the world”, was composed in 1961, in Brussels by one of the key members of African jazz: Charles ‘Dechaud’ Mwamba. The vocals came from Joseph Kabasele, Tabu Ley Rochereau and Roger Izedi.
It is partly sung in Lingala. The lyrics refer to various African nations and even America, where the music of L’African Jazz could be heard. The band also mentions several Congolese regions, cities and provinces like Mayombe, Boma and Kivu. The composition is a great example of the Pan African spirit of the band. It’s one of the best songs in their extensive oeuvre and was a huge hit across Africa. Former members of L’African Jazz, such as Tabu Ley Rochereau and Docteur Nico recorded own versions later.”
it is worth adding that the trumpeter on the track was the great Willy Kuntima nicknamed
“Satchmo” and revered to this day for his unmistakable fulsome tone. The composer
Dechaud was the band’s rhythm guitarist and elder brother of star soloist Dr Nico.
A big reason for the track’s success was its extended playing time of more than five
minutes afforded by the then new 45 rpm format (there being no 12 inch albums released
in the Congo until the mid-
Strong new cover versions of both “Indépendance Cha Cha” and “Africa Mokili Mobimba” feature on “Les Plus Classiques de la Musique Congolaise” wherein ex Zaiko, post jazz Congolese master guitarist Manuaku Pepe Fely looks back at the sounds that influenced him as a young man. This makes for absorbing listening, and one of the most unexpected and best African jazz guitar releases of the year, enhanced by guest appearances from the likes of ex OK Jazz vocalist Wuta Mayi plus trumpeter Kaber Kabasele and keyboard player Ray Lema, both of whom their teeth with African Jazz alumnus Tabu Ley Rochereau.
Now 81 years old, the sole remaining active former member of the incarnation of African Jazz with Dr Nico, the great Manu Dibango does much the same in his appearance on four tracks on the eponymous album “Dany Doriz Big Band,” were, like Manuaku, he to pays homage to musicians he idolised as a young man: Sidney Bechet and Johnny Hodges. This justly venerated old mater’s playing, particularly on his new cover of Duke Ellington’s “Morning Glory,” puts even McCoy Mrubata in the shade .Required listening for anyone that doubts the connection between the magnificent, seminal music of African Jazz and the African American tradition in jazz.
Going back south,“Duduvudu – The Gospel According to Dudu Pukwana” is a wonderful reminder of just how right the of apartheid authorities were to fear the power of jazz. A collaborative effort between North American, European and South African musicians together with former associates of the late exiled saxophonist is a treat featuring tight, memorising reworkings of compositions made famous by Pukwana such as “Mra.” There is superb musicianship by the likes of Ntshuks Bonga and the late Harry Becket, whose last session this was. Exemplary sleeve notes combined with moving testimony from contemporaries remind us what an important and influential player Pukwana was.
Quite why the aforementioned only surviving fellow Blue Note, Bra Louis Moholo-
It is worth pointing out that the three collaborators in Moholo’s strong quartet
The apartheid authorities were right to single out Congolese jazz as the most potent
musical threat they faced – as the reach of “Indépendance Cha Cha” demonstrates But,
though the authorities probably didn’t realise when they suppressed that song in
1960, the elephant in the room was Franco.He still is. While Franco doesn’t feature
on the song, the band that recorded it was not leader Kabasele’s usual African Jazz
The point is further illustrated by the fact that even in sub Saharan Africa’s most
populous country, Nigeria, Franco’s popularity exceeded that of Fela for much of
the latter’s career and right across sub-
Although today’s Central African jazz is very much, Congo centric rather than the
continent wide phenomenon it was in Franco’s day, this column will report next month,
God willing, that 2014 has been a great year for that region’s jazz and will include
a review of the continent’s biggest music star’s long-
Note and further apology: While three months away from my desk were necessary and afforded an opportunity to refocus and get a sense of perspective on Africa and her jazz I apologise to readers who have been awaiting the promised discography of Youlou Mabiala which will now appear on this site in 2015.
Track of the Month:-
Apologies to readers awaiting this site’s article about Youlou Mabiala and to those who would like to read about other matters. The Youlou Mabiala article and a discography are still under preparation.
As a taster of what is to come, the track of the month “Kacha” is a lyrical collaboration
between Youlou Mabiala (here featured as lead vocalist, band leader and ,probably,
composer) and another OK Jazz living legend, Verckys Kiamuangana (alto sax, leader
of the horn section and producer) from their album “Le Verdict” which is the only
one of the 19 recent Mabiala digital reissues that is not on the Sterns label. Poorly
distributed outside central Africa on release in 1999 or 2000, this little-
Interestingly, this wasn’t the first time Youlou and Verckys had pulled a rabbit
out of the hat. Having first joined Franco in and what was then OK Jazz earlier in
the 1960s, Youlou and Verckys made a remarkable series of singles in the late 1960’s
under the name Verckys et son Ensemble. According to Graeme Ewens’ “Congo Colossus:
Life and Legacy of Franco and OK Jazz” the OK Jazz musicians initially involved included
vocalist Lola Checain, Simaro on rhythm guitar, Celi Bitchou, who hailed from Chad,
pn electric bass and Mose Se Fan Fan, who was about to join OK Jazz from Kwamy, Mujos
and Brazzos’ Orchestre Révolution, on lead guitar .. Although this rebellion seems
to have irked Franco and failed in the sense that Verckys and the others quickly
retuned to the fold; at least one of the tracks they recorded, “Okokoma Mokristo”
seems to have made an impression because it was reissued on the pioneering 1977
compilation “Musique Congolo-
The forthcoming article and discography will attempt to demonstrate that the right verdict on Youlou Mabiala’s career in music, most of which is sandwiched between these superlative sessions with Verckys, is a Tout Puissant thumbs up, which is rather more than can be said of the time it is taking to put the article together…
Part One – Simaro at 75
Track of the Month:-
With “Encore & Toujours” (forever and always), subtitled “L’Icone de la Muique Conglaise”
(Congolese music icon) the now 75-
Unusually for Simaro, the new release kicks off with a frenetic celebratory “generique.”
Mainstream Congolese albums often start in this way: with an up-
“Salim”, the more mellow and characteristic second track, which is a current hit ,is Simaro’s most appealing composition since “Interpellation” (2001) and will surely come to be r regarded as a masterpiece to rank alongside the likes of his “Ebale ya Zaire” (1973), “Maya” (1984), “Testament ya Bowule” (1986) and “Eau Benite”(1990). It starts with a spoken introduction by Simaro himself who goes on to underpin the entire performance, with his eloquent guitar accompaniment for a lead vocal by an unfamiliar singer whose artistry is beautiful beyond words making “Salim”, an obvious track of the month.
Other fine tracks on this consistently good release include “Ngina Mawu” sung by
Shakembo; “Okasal” sung by the same superb vocalist as “Salim” in duet with an exquisite
new female vocalist in the mould of M'bilia Bel and “Bitshilux” with a spoken vocal
that has one wondering if it is old Josky Kiambukuta plus a pleasing sebene. “Ravis”
is an ensemble piece featuring multiple vocalists and a razor sharp sebene led by
a guitar soloist, reminiscent of the late Gerry Dialungana who, like the vocalist
on “Salim,” the new female vocalist a pianist and various horn players who appear
on several tracks have one longing to know the personnel of the current Bana OK line-
For more information, Zephyrin Nkumu Assana Kirkia’s wonderful little book* “Lutumba
Ndomanueno Simaro: Poète, philosophie, guitariste-
For Simaro, who was born and bred in Kinshasa and began his professional life in
music with Micra Jazz in 1958, the decisive moment in his career occurred when his
music came to the attention of Franco , who recruited him to the best band in Africa,
OK Jazz,in 1961. According to Kirkia, Micra Jazz had featured saxophonist/composer
Verckys Kiamwangana plus voalist/compsers Mulamba Mujos and Cogo-
Throughout, the author emphasises the philosophical nature of Simaro’s thinking and notes that some of his song texts have been set works for baccalaureate exams in philosophy in Congo Brazzaville since the 1970’s. He earned the title “The Poet” in 1974 after the release of his celebrated, seminal song “Mabele” about the earth, a translation of which appears in Graeeame Ewen’s essential book “Congo Colossus: The Life and Legacy of Franco and OK Jazz.” Kirkia stresses the use of traditional proverbs and adages in Simaro’s work, a practice which he arguess has influenced many other composers.
As exemplars of Simaro’s poetry and thinking, four songs are singled out for detailed exposition. In brief, “Ebale ya. Zaire” which, like “Mabele” was sung by Sam Mangwana is a meditation on the mighty Congo River , which explores the theme of lost love and separation. Eleven years later, “Affaire Kitikwala” from 19 84’s “Maya,” widely regarded his best solo album, features Carlyto Lassa on lead vocal and is about life, love, morality and death, centring around the theme of Carpe Diem (seize the day.) Wise proverbial pronouncements such as:
“Chew bones while you have teeth”
“Remember, there is no beer in heaven”
which the song features are s particularly resonant now that Simaro is such a vivacious
The subject matter of the 1998 song “Trahison” from the solo album of the same name is betrayal and humility. Poignantly, the beautiful rendition by vocalist Pepe Kalle turned out to be one of his last studio recordings. According to the lyrics, we are all equal in death: the earth never rejects a corpse and there is no rivalry in the graveyard. Likewise love knows no boundaries. The author informs that people respect Simaro because he has been true to his word and lived hambly. While Franco was alive he lived in a modest rented house in the traditional family compound. Nowadays, he has his own villa but it is still in the family compound. In this song, the poet advises that we should be wary of friendship rooted in drink and cigarettes because it will betray us and empty our pockets. Rather, we should take care to look after our health, which is also exactly what Simaro seems to have done over the years.
“Muana Ndeke” from the earlier 1989 album “Pepe Kalle Chante Le Poète Simaro” sung by Kalle and Carlyto features Papa Noël and Diblo Dibala on guitar and the great saxophonist Empopo "Deyesse" Loway. The same album launched the huge hit “Diarrhée Verbale” aka “Tumba Timba.” “Muana Ndeke” is about the desirability and difficulty of reconciliation after divorce.
One can only hope that in a future edition or at the invaluable blog to which he refers (www.mbokamosika.com), Kirkia will interpret “Salim, ” “Kadima” and other gems from Simaro’s repetoire. Anyone still doubting Simaro’s stature in Congolese music should view clips on YouTube of his 75th birthday concert in Kinshasa featuring guests of the calibre of Koffi Olomide, easily Africa’s biggest music star; Malage de Lugendo, an alumnus of both T.P. OK Jazz and Zaiko Langa Langa and Shak Shakembo all of which one hopes will appear in full on a DVD of the show in due course.
* Zephyrin Nkumu Assana Kirkia’s book is readily available from Amazon, where, oddly, it is listed without the author’s surname. i.e. the author’s name is stated, incorrectly, as Zephyrin Nkumu Assana. Amazon also shorten the book’s title to “Lutumba Ndomanueno Simaro.”
Part Two of this article “Youlou Mabiala – the trials, the triumphs, The Verdict” delayed from last month is under preparation.
Track of the Month:– “Maka” from the album “Judoka” by Youlou Mabiala & Kamikaze Longisa (digital download only, Congo Brazzaville)
“Maka” is an appetiser for an article about Youlou Mabiala that is soon-
The reissue of 19 of Youlou’s albums, containing much material that has unavailable for decades and with the promise of more to come, is already the largest and arguably most significant series of reissues by an African jazz artist since Fela Kuti’s Africa 70 albums were made available on CD for the first time in the late 1990s. A review article about these revelatory recordings will appear on this site shortly.
By happy coincidence, pianist Bokani Dyer, two of whose award winning releases were just reviewed here, and who appears on Nomfundo’s “Kusile,” this site’s Track of the Month, made his London debut last week. An affable stage manner couldn’t quite conceal that in several respects his appearance at Dalston’s Vortex Jazz Club was momentous occasion.
It was momentous firstly because it marked one of the rare occasions that Londoners
have had chance to see any of the younger generation of Southern Africa’s post apartheid
jazz stars. The celebrated tenor saxophonist Soweto Kinch has played with Dyer in
South Africa before* but the experience must have been a revelation to the other
prominent British jazz musicians with whom he appeared -
Bokani Dyer’s date at The Vortex was the culmination of a four nation European tour
that marked the latest step in a life that began in 1986 when he was bon during that
brief proud period in Botswana’s jazz history when its capital city, Gaborone played
host to a community of exiled anti-
In fact, Bokani Dyer seems by design or good fortune to have chosen a near perfect
moment in his career at which to launch himself in London because, if his recordings
are anything to go by, his playing has matured and developed to an astonishing degree
over the last two or three years to the point, where he has established a level of
proficiency, and good taste that prompts rare comparison. The two that spring to
mind are Teddy Wilson’s late 1930’s sides with Billie Holiday and Moses Taiwa Molelekwa’s
minuscule number of mind numbingly good last acoustic piano releases from 2000/ 2001
with the Brothers of Peace and Joanna McGregor. Bokani Dyer lays no claim to the
stature or originality of either of these illustrious musical forebears but what
he does have in common with both. apart from being in the latter half of his 20’s,
is an astonishing level of fluidity in his playing born, one suspects, of years of
frequent live performance with high-
To some extent it may also have been that the British musicians, with the exception
of Kinch, weren’t sufficiently familiar with Southern African jazz idiom -
While it is much hoped that institutions like The Vortex will bring us more acts
such as Dyer this ignorance also goes some way towards accounting for why more distinct
African variants of jazz, remain so little understood and under appreciated. A current
example in London’s African jazz scene is the superb Tanzanian saxophonist Rama,
who plays in a manner that evokes the spirit of the great Empopo Deyesse and has
held down a late night residency on Fridays and Saturdays at the West Green Tavern
in Seven Sisters for months with his band African Jambo regularly playing to packed
houses that contain barely a single one of the sort of jazz fan that frequent the
Encouragingly, Rama’s guitarist Jeannot Bel, who has made a couple of promising albums, is moving in a parallel direction in his work as a guitar teacher. He also directed the DVD “Congolese Rumba Guitar Technique” by Olivier Tshimanga , easily the most prominent younger jazz instrumentalist in Central Africa: a release that will delight the intrepid regardless of whether or not they play guitar.
Bokani Dyer’s wonderful and heartening debut may well be a harbinger of things to come, because if London’s African jazz scene could get itself together, this extraordinary melting pot of a city could produce some truly startling music that would eventually sweep aside the septuagenarian and octogenarian African stars European jazz fans tend to think of when minded of Africa and who, to this day, dominate African jazz programming at bigger venues such as the Southbank Centre and Barbican.
Anther promising sapling popping up in London of late is a new crossover recording by Yaba Funk who are basically a party band with an Afrobeat/ highife bent. Their new album “My Vote Dey Count” is graced by talented saxophonist Jason Yarde on fine, exuberant form who brings a taste of London’s finest jazz into an African/ context. Such recordings and appearances by Bokani Dyer and Rama still feel peripheral and are too fragmentary to constitute a coherent rebirth of the city’s African jazz scene following the demise and departure, of most of the South African exiles, who made such an impact on the jazz scene in the 1960’s, 70’s, 80’s and 90’s but one senses that as the scene develops anew and especially if it starts to influence global jazz in the way that it certainly has the potential to; moments such Bokani Dyer’s debut may come to be remembered as sparks that played a role in bringing about a sea change in the way London and the world view jazz from Africa and become roots of a more afrocentric, less divided, richer, more diverse type of global jazz.
* In the first published version of this article, I suggested incorrectly that this
was the first time Soweto Kinch had performed with Bokani Dyer. I have corrected
this error. thanks to a glowing, enlightening review of the same gig by Dan Bergsagel
at London Jazz News. There is another equally positive review by Kevin Le Gendre
at Jazzwise Magazine and a touching personal slant on the evening by Peter Bacon
at Jazz Breakfast, who turns out to be Steve Dyer’s brother-
** Established African jazz musicians in London include South Africa’s Claude Deppa (Brotherhood of Breath alumnus/trumpet) and Pinise Saul (vocalist who worked extensively with Dudu Pukwana and Lucky Ranku), Nigeria’s Dele Sosimi (pianist/composer; alumnus of Fela’s Egypt 80) Funmi Olawumi (vocalist/composer), Ghana’s Kari Bannerman (Osibisa alumnus/guitarist) DR Congo’s Mose Fanfan (OK Jazz alumnus/guitarist/composer) and various alumni pf Uganda’s Afrigo.
Track of the Month:-
It could be argued that the jazz musicians who are the biggest winners at this year’s
Metro FM and SAMA (South African Music Awards) are not the wonderful newcomer Nomfundo
whose “Kusile” won her Metro FM’s Urban Jazz Award or the gifted double bassist Shane
Cooper , who’s “Oscillations” won this year’s coveted jazz SAMA, but rather pianist
Bokani Dyer and saxophonist/flautist Buddy Wells, who play their hearts out on both
albums. Looked at from this perspective, Nomfundo’s is perhaps the greater of the
The strength of Metro FM’s selection this year extends to most of their shortlist. Having been criticised last year in the South African press for including too many singer/songwriters with questionable jazz credentials,the judges seem to have listened and have chosen albums that combine popular appeal with genuine jazz. Their full shortlist was as follows:
Swazi Dlamini’s gospel tinged jazz isn’t to everyone’s liking but she has a huge following and, one imagines, frequent airplay on Metro FM. She is blessed with a fine, powerful voice and at least one of her new tracks “Full Circle” which is about her relationship with her audience is effective in spite of truly dreadful twinkly sound effects.
Indwe’s eponymous debut is more, in the tradition of Dr Philip Tabane and his Malombo Jazzmen, a link accentuated by the presence of ace Malombo percussionist Tabang Tabane on the recording. Other fine jazz musicians involved include saxophonist Khaya Mahlangu, keyboardist Nduduzo Makhathini and the newly SAMA nominated drummer. Sisa Sopazi The sleeve notes emphasise the quality of Indwe’s lyrics. A good example of her work is “Umqhagi” which is about the need for wise leadership:
“ ‘The Rooster’ -
Julius Schultz will be a new name to most to although his “Color Blind” is actually
his second album. He is an electric guitarist who has achieved the difficult feat
of standing out from the crowd and has made a genuine fist of an attempt at starting
to map out a genuinely South African style of jazz playing on his instrument. On
the studio album, thatt forms part of his two disc set, he is supported by Hugh Masekela’s
keyboardist Randal Skippers and the equally good young Zimbabwean drummer. Legan
Breda. His compositions range from the kwai jazz of the title track and “Woza” to
George Benson, like numbers to a delightfully tongue-
Zamajobe has a popular touch too and her new album once again displays her forte
which is her uncanny ability to develop musical relationships with collaborators
who are at the cutting edge. On this occasion it’s the notable. multi-
By contrast, SAMA’s list of nominees seems rather limited in scope , with an emphasis on mainly acoustic instrumental jazz in a sort of internationalised hard bop/ improvised music from but one corner of the nation’s rich jazz scene. Certainly, the contest between SAMA’s nominees failed to ignite public interest. A poll conducted by South Africa’s JazzE magazine’s website garnered an under whelming total of nine votes only one of which was for the eventual winner. SAMA’s full list of nominations was:
Another thing Nomfundo and Shane Cooper’s albums certainly have in common is the
high quality of kit drumming. Cooper’s Kevisan Naidoo is a busy, propulsive virtuoso
who enjoys a long-
Fellow debut drummer Tumi Mogorosi’s pianoless album “Project ELO” is a much more
ambitious offering from its striking gold cover to Lwanda Gogwana like use of classical
sounding wordless vocal chorus and shades of Louis Moholo-
Marcus Wyatt’s fine trumpet playing on “One Life in the Sun” accounts for his SAMA nomination but he has made better albums of the past, notably “Language 12.” As noted in the original review on this site the standout track on this latest offering is a l tribute to Moses Taiwa Molelekwa and Johnny Dyani.
Lovers of South African trumpet playing should also seek out Unathi’s “An intimate night with Unathi” justly nominated for the SAMA’s Live DVD of the Year which captures a memorable performance by trumpet soloist Pablo Seotlolla. Had this album also been released on CD, it might well have attracted further nominations because Unathi’s vocals and material on this release are at least as good as Nomfundo’s and she is a major star iof the Kalawa Jazmee ilk. Highly recommended.
The absence of Lil’ Noise’s supremely good “Case Closed,” from both SAMA’s and Metro FM’s shortlists is an inexplicable omission. The lack of nominations for Norman Chauke’s “JAZZ DIKAS’ no. 3” is puzzling too but perhaps this elease was too late for inclusion in the 2014 short lists.
On the other hand, high praise is in order for SAMA’s inclusion of the late Zim Ngqawana’s “Live At The Cape Town International Jazz Festival” in their shortlist marking the first time a posthumous live recording has been honoured in this way, in South Africa. All praise too, to the record label Sheer Sound for putting this release out which, it is hoped, will herald an avalanche of such material. Live recordings of this sort are a staple of the rest of the world’s jazz scene and South Africa’s broadcasters, jazz fans and impresarios must have countless such treasures in their vaults that music lovers would love to hear. This particular release is most definitely a a case in point: a veritable feast of excellent jazz that won. this site’s Southern African release of the year award in December. The DVD is particularly strong, affording an opportunity to see, among others, a young Shane Cooper at his best.
More broadly,SAMA and Metro FM are both spot on in showering awards, including Album
of the Year, on Mafikizolo’s “Reunited” a rave review of which can be found on this
site. Anyone still doubting Mafikizolo’s jazz credentials need look no further than
The extent to which South Africa’s jazz scene has moved on in the 20 years since
the first free elections were held in 1994 is extraordinary. Kwai jazz pioneers like
Mafikizolo and Oskido are now long established members of the country’s musical firmament.
These colossal changes in the jazz scene since the years of exiled musicians and
apartheid are somehow exemplified in the credits on Nomfundo’s album in which she
thanks her former jazz lMasters supervisor for sharing time and expertise during
“halfprice sushi outings.” South Africa may have a very long way to go before economic
apartheid is genuinely dismantled, but the way the jazz scene operates has developed
at a rate of knots. Likewise it is to be hoped that it is only a matter of time before
South Africa’s array of younger jazz stars achieve global recognition. It is high
time the wider world paid more attention and began enjoying what contemporary Africa
has to offer in exactly the same globalized, open-
Track of the Month:-
Seun Kuti & Egypt 80’s “A Long Way to the Beginning” infuriates and delights in equal measure. Chief among the delights is . Egypt 80, one of the defining big bands in jazz, still under the leadership of Lekan Animashaun who has been developing and playing Afrobeat for a period spanning six decades and who has been in charge of the band since taking over from Tony Allen in the late 1970’s. The current band boasts the best horn section in contemporary Africa and retains its unique rhythm section still featuring Davi Obayendo’s tenor guitar and distinctive percussion, notably giant conga played by veteran Kola Onasanyaists and Wale Totiola’s trademark claves. Animashaun no longer blows baritone, but quietly directs s from behind the keyboards which he plays with impeccable taste. His carefully chosen successor in the key baritone position, Adekunle Adebiyi, is stupendously good and in live performance, his sound and solos are the most outstanding feature of the band. (Click here to read a review of a live show.)
On the downside, whilst the brass section still features Oyinade Adeniran on tenor
and can be heard to good effect on the new recording, there is a notable lack of
horn solos. Worse still,Seun Kuti’s self aggrandising rhetoric about this release
marking the beginning of Afrobeat is open to ridicule and much of his political posturing
comes across as suspect. The inclusion of snippets of rap, which sounded refreshing
and relevant when Seun’s elder brother Femi started doing it two decades ago, now
sounds faintly old-
Fortunately, the album is redeemed to a large extent by a vast improvement in the
quality of Seun Kuti’s compositions. Whereas on his first two albums, the best tracks
were by Animashaun and other band members, on “A Long Way to the Beginning” Seun
is the sole composer and comes good on at least three tracks. Given his propensity
for profanity, his lyric to the opener “IMF” is perhaps rather predictable, but nevertheless
effective, contain a kernel of truth and would undoubtedly have made his father smile.
“Ohun Aiye” is a lyrical highlife piece rather than Afrobeat and includes a pleasing
trumpet solo. Best of all, is the final track “Black Woman” which is a tender, thoughtful
ode to the women of Africa, making not only for a genuinely beautiful song, but also
forming a welcome and positive development in the subject matter of the music. In
summary, for the first time with “A Long Way to the Beginning” Seun Kuti proves that
he might just have it in him to front his father’s great band to good effect -
It is fitting that what is reputedly Geydu-
Not one to rest on his laurels, Ambolley has since improved his marvellous band consisting of Kuku Ansong (trumpet), Colonel Faat (tenor), Olu Segun (alto), Isaac Karikari aka Young Amin (piano/ keyboards), Charles O Donkorunkel aka Kwesi Arko (bass), Peter Mensah (drums) and Shikome (congas) by replacing his previously rather rock orientated guitarist with a mellifluous exponent of highlife by the name of. Dominic Quachie.
Appropriately “The Different Shades of Ambolley” is his most diverse album since 2001’s “AfriKan Jaazz” (since reissued as “African Jazz”) which, coincidentally, was this site’s Album of the Year. The new set forms a relaxed understated album , encompassing an extended homage to Fela &Egypt 80 in the first three tracks; a largely instrumental ballad featuring an extended sax solo by Ambolley himself (“Ambolley Special”), a sort of credo to a reggae beat (“It doesn’t matter”) alongside several tracks in Ambolley's more usual and inimitable style. There are guest appearances from the hip life fraternity that are largely successful too. Best of all is the new composition “I love you girl” which sounds at the start like it might be a syrupy love song, but develops into a beautiful amalgam of highlife, hip life and jazz while in the lyrics, the subject matter subtly shifts from love for a woman to love for everything the composer holds dear: the tradition, wisdom and culture of Ghana , together with the necessity for honesty.
Such contrasting elements could easily have resulted in a scrappy, ill focused album,
but all is held together by the the coherence of the band and the skill with which
Ambolley utilises his own gifts as composer, percussionist, saxophonist and, above
all, vocalist . His singing has an uncanny and seemingly effortless ability not only
to convey meaning and emotion but to switch f back and forth from being a solo like
frontline improviser and the bedrock of the rhythm section. This, ultimately, is
why he is considered such an important precursor of rap and hip life. If one were
to strip away all instrumentation and have an album consisting of Ambolley’s vocals
alone, this would still be a beautiful record. In contrast with Seun Kuti, Ambolley
is judicious in giving and creating space for all his musicians to shine as well,
enabling each ample time to demonstrate their ability. In so doing,Ambolley’s new
offering becomes both a fine jazz album shot through with musicianship that repays
repeated, attentive listening, and an album that will go down well at a good party
The status of Mozambican jazz guitarist, singer and composer Jimmy Dludlu in South
Africa is akin to that of Ambolley in Ghana. In the minds of the majority of local
jazz lovers, he is right up there with the likes of Hugh Masekela. However, also
like Ambolley, he is much less well-
That the failure of this site to encompass jazz from North Africa and islands such
as Madagascar and Cabo Verde is a shortcoming is graphically illustrated by Carmen
Souza’s wondrous new DVD/CD set “Live at Lagny Jazz Festival” This stunning release
is every bit as good as the strong new albums by Angelique Kidjo and Tutu Puoane
reviewed last month. Just watch and listen, for example, to her playful, acrobatic
vocals on “Donna Lee” which is also a tour de force for her superlative band consisting
If anyone had told this critic a month ago that amid such a fine clutch of new releases.by some of the continent’s top stars he would single out a release from a Lisbon born Cabo Verdian as the best, he would have eaten his hat to prove them wrong. But Carmen Souza really is that good and cannot be recommended too highly. “Live at Lagny Jazz Festival” is a spellbinding, exceptional release and , on this evidence, Carmen Souza emerges as one of the most exciting talents in contemporary African jazz. “Africa,” she tells her audience when encouraging them to sing along to her song of the same name, “is about attitude and energy.” Carmen Souza and her musicians are most certainly a case in point.
Choosing a track of the month has been especially difficult because her “Donna Lee” and Geydu Blay Ambolley’s “I love you girl” are equally good and both deserve to be widely heard. The Ghanaian track has been chosen in to celebrate the inclusion of Ghana in Wikipedia’s entry for African jazz, marking the first time that a West African nation is being honoured in this way. This is an important achievement because, as argued in this site in 2010 (click here to see the article), Wikipedia’s entry for African jazz is a barometer of opinion in the jazz establishment. Their addition of first Ethiopia and now Ghana as sources of African jazz presages a long overdue recognition of African jazz as a pan African phenomenon. This in turn will herald a paradigm shift in global thinking about jazz . the real centre of which, as argued in 2010 with reference to Fela and other musicians of his calibre, is Africa, rather than the United States. As the decade progresses, it is to be expected that a great multitude of critics and scholars will find themselves eating their hats over this very point..
Track of the Month:-
Within the space of a few weeks, two of Africa’s best loved contemporary jazz divas Angelique Kidjo and Tutu Puoane have released albums of exceptional quality.
Kidjo is such a big star that the jazz content of her work is sometimes overlooked. Like Miriam Makeba,who she always cites as a role model and influence, Kidjo simply ignores and, arguably, transcends boundaries of genre. Certainly, in terms of commercial success Kidjo’s achievements parallel those of Makeba.
Likewise, just as Makeba worked with top flight jazz musicians such as Hugh Masekela
and Dizzy Gilespie, so does Kidjo. The key contributor to her new album “Eve” is
US based guitarist Lionel Loueke who, like Kidjo, hails from Benin and demonstrates
as he did on her last studio album “Õÿö” that he performs superbly with her. His
intelligent, understated contributions are idiomatic in what is essentially a set
of West African folk songs as are the delightfully uninhibited backing vocals by
women pf Benin recorded in situ during Kidjo’s travels.. Her supremely powerful,
instantly recognisable voice is ideally suited to this material too as is her obvious
sincerity. To top this off , she employs an utterly contemporary hip swivelling
jaz rhythm section consisting of Steve Jordan on drums and Christian McBride on
bass. Such a rich, complex combination of mouthwatering ingredients could well have
resulted in a recording that was disjointed or over ambitious. It is very much to
Kidjo’s credit, and that of her producer Patrick Dillett, that “Eve” is a coherent
album that repays repeated listening. This is Kidjo at her stunning best. She sounds
relaxed and much less frenetic than on her overrated live album “Spirit Rising” where
she often sounded like a motorist determined to impress by keeping her foot to the
floor. On “Eve,” she seems more at ease with herself, helped perhaps by the presence
of the gifted Loueke who sounds consistently laid-
Tutu Puoane's new album will not be heard in the swanky nightclubs to which Kidjo’s recording is so ideally suited. Her new set is an extravagant live acoustic recording, fronted by trumpeter Bert Joris and backed by the Royal Flemish Philharmonic, conducted by Martyn Brabins. The key instrumentalists however on “Live at De Roma” are Puoane’s regular small band made up of her husband and pianist Ewout Pierreeux, superlative double bassist Nicholas Thys and drummer Martijn Vink who by now all share a seemingly telepathic musical connection and constitute one of the best acoustic trios in contemporary jazz.
Thankfully Joris has had the wisdom to construct his arrangements and compositions around this fine trio and the conductor ensures that the orchestra follows their beat rather than his or that of a metronome. The result is a big band that genuinely swings and provides a showcase in which both the trumpet solos and Puoane can shine. Instrumentally the album falls roughly midway between the sound of Gil Evans big band with Miles Davis on “Miles Ahead” and the Congolese pianist Ray Lema’s excellent 2012 live album with Jazz Symphonica de São Paulo conducted by João Mauricio Galindo, which may well be an influence on “Live at De Roma.”
The album starts strongly with new arrangements of Puoane and Pierreeux two best loved collaborations: “Between Us.” and “Mpho’s Song” leading us into some of the trumpeter’s own compositions and culminating in a piece without Puoane. But although this is essentially a Bert Joris album, it is Tutu Puoane that steals the show. While her voice may not be quite as instantly recognisable as Kidjo’s, it is at least as powerful and, fascinatingly, her technique is completely different. Whilst Kidjo’s default mode of singing seems to involve maximum pressure on the gas pedal, Puoane delights in twists and turns moving up and down the vocal gearbox and occasionally into dazzling trills made all the more compelling by the deft subtleties with which they are surrounded. The overall effect is mesmerising and makes for a very fine album, perhaps, her best to date.
How can one compare these great African jazz divas of our era? We are blessed to
have them both, but is one greater than the other? Fortunately, Tutu Puoane has a
one word answer to all such questions. On the gorgeous Bert Joris composition "Time’s
On Our Side" she sings the word “free” twice. The second time she sings it , her
voice seems to explode like a balloon that has burst and darts around the room as
the air rushes out. It's an astonishing feat of vocal dexterity which makes this
listener’s spine tingle with delight at its breathtaking beauty. Angelique Kidjo
is one of the all-
Track of the Month: -
In Gary Giddins’ and Scott DeVeaux’s “Jazz,” widely regarded as one of the most authoritative and definitive surveys of the genre ever written, there is no mention of the South African pianist/composer/arranger Abdullah Ibrahim. Nor is there mention of any other African jazz musician. In Giddins’ and DeVeaux’s world view,Africa exists, if at all, simply as a source of slaves who happened to bring with them some musical practices and ideas such as call and response and polyrhythm that went in the melting pot from which the great African American jazz tradition derives. In fairness, their lack of regard for jazz musicians from Africa extends to the rest of the world too. Europe, for example, barely exists either, apart from Django Reinhardt who, in their account, arrives on the US jazz scene like a creature from outer space. Indeed, a visitor from another world, if asked to guess at the geography of planet earth solely on basis of Giddins’ and DeVeaux’s book would almost certainly sketch a map of the globe that has very little on it, apart from the USA. The sad thing about this world view, which is deeply embedded in mainstream thinking about jazz, is not only that it chimes with the sort of American foreign policy that the rest of the world dislikes but that it belittles the significance of African American jazz which, ironically, is precisely that it is the USA’s most influential cultural contribution to the rest of the world.
Fortunately, for the most part, the musicians who pioneered this magnificent music
didn’t share the outlook of Messrs. Giddins and DeVeaux. Figures such as Louis Armstrong,
John Coltrane and Duke Ellington took a lively and intelligent interest in Africa
and were eager to hear and learn about her music. When a more balanced historical
narrative of jazz is developed, revisionists will undoubtedly single out Duke Ellington’s
encounter with Abdullah Ibrahim, then known as Dollar Brand, as a key moment in the
globalisation of jazz. The music that captivated Ellington when he heard Ibrahim
and fellow South Africans Johnny Gertze (bass) and Makaya Ntshoko (drums), as reflected
in the 1963 album “Duke Ellington presents the Dollar Brand Trio”, could not have
existed without the influence of African American jazz, notably both Ellington’s
own and that of Thelonious Monk. But that isn’t what intrigued Ellington – by the
early 1960's, there were pianists world over that he and Monk had influenced -
This is not to say that Ibrahim isn’t a great musician in his own right because
he plainly is. His greatest recordings, certainly in the minds of his African audience,
are those made back in South Africa in the first half of the 1970’s, such as “Dollar
Brand + 3” (1971); “African Herb/Soweto” (1975) and, of course, “Mannenberg – Is
Where it’s Happening” (1974) about which Garth Chivers and Tom Jasiukowicz justly
wrote in their "History of Contemporary Music of South Africa -
“If there is a quintessential South African sound this piece is the finest example.”
Ibrahim’s 1970’s sojourn in Africa inspired his greatest playing -
It is also ironic, therefore, that Ibrahim is not much liked by jazz musicians in South Africa, many of whom resent his success and question his reputation, often stating, with some justification, that the style for which he is famous is not his style but is rather a Southern African style. Matters have not been helped by the fact that in his post apartheid career, he has largely shunned South African musicians in contrast with, say, Hugh Masekela who although equally resented for his success, has given numerous younger South Africans their first international exposure.
In addition, as a general rule, South African jazz lovers have not warmed to much
of the music. Ibrahim has made since the 1970’s. Arguably, and certainly in the eyes
of many South Africans, he has become a purveyor of a shallow romanticism about Africa
that panders to Western notions of what outsiders would like to believe. Africa is
His most recent effort. “Mukashi; once upon a time,”. has its moments. One can still
hear what a wonderfully gifted and Ellington-
Those who hanker for something more like his classic 1970’s albums and the many great
musicians he worked with at the time will be intrigued by “Keeping Time 1964 -
In a nutshell, Huntley was a jazz enthusiast who befriended numerous musicians ,
took photographs of them and sometimes recorded their performances..His beautifully
reproduced photos, many of which are in colour, that form the bulk of the book, make
a worthwhile addition to the documentation of the period, but, as Jonathan Eato points
out in his meticulously researched, well thought out and well-
This unique archive seems, not unreasonably, to reflect Huntley’s musical tastes.
So for example, he made numerous recordings of Winston Mankunku,Tete Mbambisa and
the Schilder family, all very fine musicians, but none of Zacks Nkosi, Malombo Jazzmen
and there is no sax jive artist or female performer of any sort -
While the existence of these recordings and their documentation in the book are simply wonderful, their dissemination, free of charge, is controversial. Jazz lovers fall roughly into two schools of thought about this. One school of thought can best be summarised in the words of South African jazz giant Chris McGregor’s widow Maxine and his surviving brother Tony, who wrote on the back of the excellent previously unreleased 2012 album “Sea Breezes: solo piano – Live in Durban 1987”:
“Unauthorised duplication is very unfriendly and a violation of all sorts of laws – please don’t do it.”
The other school of thought is summarised with commendable honesty and candour by Chris Albertyn, in his forward to “Keeping Time:”
“In making Ian’s audio recording is available for free download, Ian and the four
of us at Electric Jive blog are doing this to honour the musicians, rediscover,
preserve and promote a previously inaccessible and important musical heritage. To
the musicians whose recordings are being shared in the public domain, if you are
offended in any way, we ask forgiveness and solicit your understanding. In keeping
with Ian’s original purpose, this process is a non-
It is instructive that the McGregors and Jonathan Eato are in agreement that the
right and proper relationship between people who make jazz and people who listen
to it is one characterised by the spirit of friendship. Likewise, surely, this is
the spirit in which the controversy about file sharing needs to be resolved. The
problem with the manner in which in Huntley’s archive has been made available online
is not so much that one of the two parties (those in favour of file sharing and those
against) is, or might be in the wrong. The problem is that, as things stand, the
many music lovers who don’t practice file sharing and feel unable to do so because
of their convictions, have no means of hearing the music. The way forward, surely,
is for Mr Huntley and the good people at Electric Jive to sit down with all the relevant
stakeholders, especially the surviving musicians and legitimate heirs/representatives
of those who are sadly no longer with us and find a way of making this archive available
to everyone in a manner that is fair and financially agreeable to all and consistent
with Huntley’s and Electric Jive’s admirable not-
Of course, the issue about file sharing extends far beyond African jazz and falls way outside the competence of this site. It is worth pointing out, however, that in the context of sub Saharan Africa, the dilemma has an added dimension that needs to be taken into account for a satisfactory solution to be found. The importance of family ties in African culture cannot be overstated and lies behind the way society is organised, for example, in the extended family and also in widespread spiritual beliefs and practices concerning the spirits of the ancestors. Respect for one’s family and ancestors is a fundamental principle that needs to be taken fully into account in any truly African solution to the issue of file sharing.
This importance of family is sometimes and wholly appropriately reflected in the way African recordings are released and reissued. South African examples of this include compilations of recordings by Dennis Mpale and Zacks Nkosi which feature musical tributes by their descendants. Another example is a recent Congolese DVD about the wonderful and important band Bella Bella that sported pictures of the musicians’ widows on the cover. In both cases, such releases show that in an African context, such family connections can be just as important to the proper appreciation of the music as the sort of information which music lovers in the Western world look to find in a conventional discography. Likewise, solving problems in Africa in a meaningful way necessitates involving and respecting families.
In this instance, Jonathan Eato rightly argues that these particular recordings have
a very special place in the history of South African jazz. Citing Denis-
Consolation for those of us who feel unable to practice file sharing, is to be found
in a good crop of recent releases from South Africa.Two recent recordings from Cape
Town illustrate contrasting ways in which the city’s cosmopolitanism and international
outlook can play out. On the one hand, Shane Cooper’s “Oscillations” features world-
The other fine release from Cape Town takes the exact opposite approach. “Musical
Democracy” which is volume 4 in the long-
Better still is Norman Chauke’s exceptional new album “Xibelani Swings Jazz ‘JAZZ DIKAS’ no. 3” which is easily the pick of recent releases from South Africa. Listen for example to his solo piano and vocal composition “Vat Mei Kop Toe.” How long is it since Abdullah Ibrahim did anything this good? Jeph Nomvete’s sax playing is lovely too, for example on “Hammansjazzkraal Blues.” Steve Mabona (electric & double bass) and Jerry Dibakoane (drums) are superb throughout, particularly on “Rhandzani vanhu” making it an obvious choice for 2014’s first Track of the Month, but make no mistake, “JAZZ DIKAS no. 3” is an album that merits being heard in full.
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